November 23, 2014
Cathedral Church of St. Paul, Burlington, VT
The Very Rev. Jeanne Finan
Jumping up and down
It was supposed to be Arts & Crafts for a week,
but when she came home
with the “Jesus Saves” button, we knew what art
was up, what ancient craft.
She liked her little friends. She liked the songs
they sang when they weren’t
twisting and folding paper into dolls.
What could be so bad?
Jesus had been a good man, and putting faith
in good men was what
we had to do to stay this side of cynicism,
that other sadness.
OK, we said, One week. But when she came home
singing “Jesus loves me,
the Bible tells me so,” it was time to talk.
Could we say Jesus
doesn’t love you? Could I tell her the Bible
is a great book certain people use
to make you feel bad? We sent her back
without a word.
It had been so long since we believed, so long
since we needed Jesus
as our nemesis and friend, that we thought he was
that our children would think of him like Lincoln
or Thomas Jefferson.
Soon it became clear to us: you can’t teach disbelief
to a child,
only wonderful stories, and we hadn’t a story
nearly as good.
On parents’ night there were the Arts & Crafts
all spread out
like appetizers. Then we took our seats
in the church
and the children sang a song about the Ark,
and one in which they had to jump up and down
I can’t remember ever feeling so uncertain
about what’s comic, what’s serious.
Evolution is magical but devoid of heroes.
You can’t say to your child
“Evolution loves you.” The story stinks
of extinction and nothing
exciting happens for centuries. I didn’t have
a wonderful story for my child
and she was beaming. All the way home in the car
she sang the songs,
occasionally standing up for Jesus.
There was nothing to do
but drive, ride it out, sing along
That is Stephen Dunn’s poem “At the Smithfield Methodist Church.”
One of my very favorite poems.
It so lovingly lays out our struggle with belief.
Our wrestling match with this man named Jesus
and the Church.
Today is the “Last Sunday after Pentecost.”
That sounds rather final, doesn’t it?
Here’s the good news--
it is not our last Sunday ever--just the Last Sunday of this liturgical season.
Many, many weeks ago we celebrated the Feast of Pentecost,
the coming of the Holy Spirit onto the disciples and onto all of us.
Some refer to Pentecost as the birthday of the Church.
If we think back we can remember the red vestments,
the kite flying over our heads inside the Cathedral,
the party that followed.
But time passes.
Weeks go by and here we are in a time of shorter days,
greyer skies, and time to ponder.
We began to wonder.
Am I a sheep or a goat?
Do I want to follow or do I want to butt heads with the Church?
Do I want to stand up for Jesus
or do I want to run and hide,
be silent, be sullen.
What is true?
What is real?
How can we know?
We spend so much effort trying to “fix” the church--
and each other, I might add--
that sometimes we miss the point.
The Church is not a fixer upper.
The Church is a community of God’s people.
Yes, there are flaws, definite whiffs of goat-dom at times.
But God does not call us--as individuals or as communities--
to be perfect.
God calls us to be faithful.
God calls us to be kind to one another, to be compassionate, to respect each other.
The Church does not belong to us--
the Church belongs to God AND us--together.
We also need to remember that we don’t have to find God.
God will find us.
If we open our hearts--and sometimes, even when we don’t.
It helps to show up.
Of course, as your priest,
I think it helps-- a lot-- to show up in church.
To pray and to worship, to give thanks.
And even for the most skeptical of us,
there is always that off chance
that we might be transformed
in ways we did not ask or imagine.
Yes, show up at church to pray and worship and give thanks,
but show up other places too.
I think it helps to show up in a lot of places
just as Jesus showed up in a lot of places.
Show up to offer hospitality to the stranger.
We do that by hanging out in the South Porch and welcoming
those coming through our doors.
Do you realize how much courage it takes to walk in the doors of a church
when you have been away for a long time?
Imagine the amount of courage it takes to walk through the doors
if you have NEVER been to church. Ever.
This is the world we live in today.
We greet one another at the time of passing God’s peace.
We host a coffee hour.
We fix a pot of stew or bring a gallon of milk
or help serve dinner at the Salvation Army.
We wash the pots and pans.
We invite someone to come to church.
We volunteer at JUMP and provide clothing and food
and diapers and a bus pass
and other basic needs for these strangers
that God has brought to our door.
We get involved with Vermont Interfaith Action
and write position papers
to try to change a system that sometimes feels unchangeable.
We jump up and down for justice
and believe that the impossible is possible.
We make a donation to the UTO fund
simply because we are thankful.
We care about what is happening in Zimbabwe and Haiti and Kenya
and Costa Rica.
We teach Church School to the littlest ones among us
and with the bigger ones,
we talk about the psalms or healing oils
or a walk through spiritual darkness.
We visit those in prison
always remembering that there are many types of prisons.
We begin to stop believing that we are the ones in control,
that we are the rulers of the universe.
On rare occasions we get it.
We understand how little control we have.
The doctor enters the examining room and says,
“We got your tests back and the news is not good...”
The phone rings in the middle of the night
and it is the call we hoped we would never get.
We stand helpless as we watch our teenager
or our husband or our wife--or ourselves--
spiral down into the deep, dark hole of depression or addiction.
The rains come and the waters rise
and everything we worked so hard for and thought was ours forever
is washed away.
Suddenly we are the ones who need feeding and clothing
and tender visits.
Control is such a convincing illusion.
But Jesus keeps telling us that control is not what matters.
Love matters. Compassion matters.
God’s unquenchable thirst for restoration, for resurrection
begins to get our attention.
We sometimes think it is all up to us.
That we are the ones wearing the crown.
That we are the kings and the queens of the universe.
The little girl in Stephen Dunn’s poem
has is right.
We are not called to have all the answers.
We are called to be joyful.
We are not called to be powerful.
We are called to be thankful.
We are called to see the face of Christ
in everyone we meet.
To see the face of Christ
in every single person.
To pay attention to the God-moments,
those lightning flashes of grace
that remind us of the kingdom that is coming,
but to also remind us,
that the kingdom
is already here.
+ + +
Stephen Dunn is one of my favorite poets. I encourage you to buy one of his books of poetry.These are just a few.